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Covert, Academy Park eat up Gratz challenge

SHARON HILL >> He jumped up and down. He bent at the waist to stretch his legs. He ran to the fence to hold a conversation with fans. It’s difficult to slow down Academy Park’s Devon Covert, even during a stoppage in play.

Covert was all over the place Friday night, sprinkling in contributions throughout Academy Park’s 28-8 nonleague win over Simon Gratz. The junior accounted for two of the Knights’ three defensive takeaways, with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in the second quarter. He also had two tackles for loss.

Most fans would be incredulous in learning that Covert, a defensive standout, considers the other side of the ball “my first love.” He played running back at every stage of his youth career, before turning to defense upon his arrival at Academy Park.

So what happened?

“That’s where they wanted me, I guess,” Covert said, laughing.

His position coach explained it this way: “When we bring kids in as freshmen, we have them play both sides of the ball to see where they’ll fit within our team,” said Mike Ewing, Academy Park’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. “I claimed Devon the second I saw him. I said, ‘He’s born to be on defense.’”

Ewing liked what he called Covert’s “smarts and instincts” on defense, so much so that he had Covert starting on varsity at middle linebacker as a sophomore. These days, he splits time at strong safety and outside linebacker. Needless to say, the move is working out for him and 4-0 Academy Park.

“Watching those who came before me is how I got where I am today,” Covert said.

Academy Park continued its torrid start to the season. Two plays into their first drive, the Knights found the end zone on a 23-yard connection between quarterback Skylor Fillis and Barry Brown. A back-breaking series ensued for Simon Gratz, with the Bulldogs driving 60 yards on 17 plays over a nearly nine-minute stretch of the first and second quarters. It ended with a turnover on downs, after Darren Gibli batted down a pass.

Gibli, six plays later, bulldozed through Simon Gratz’s defensive front en route to a 32-yard scoring run. The Knights added two additional second-quarter touchdowns, a 23-yard catch-and-run by Alphonso Hayes, and Fillis darting between tackles for a 32-yard score.

Academy Park had possession for 3:14 in the first half, or roughly 7 percent of the available clock. The Knights still managed to outgain Gratz, 174-160, in total offense. The story does not end with Academy Park’s offense, however. Its defense forced three turnovers, including an interception and a fumble recovery by Covert, while also limiting the Bulldogs to 62 yards on 24 first-half carries.

“That’s what we do,” sophomore linebacker Brian Erskine said. “Tonight we had a blitz-heavy zone scheme and, yeah, we were all pretty vocal about it. We communicated, and we got the job done against (Gratz).”

Thursday night, Ewing invited the five players who have started at linebacker for him this season to his Ridley Twp. home and grilled up steak and chicken.

“Not a morsel was left in my house,” Ewing said. “But look at how they played. Maybe I’m on to something.”

“We ate good,” Erskine said. “I think that food fueled us.”

That theory seemed particularly true for Covert.

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